By Graham Slaughter | The Star
The nomads of Toronto’s food scene may soon have a home.
A food truck alliance is banding together to form Food Truck Alley, a hub of kitchens-on-wheels that will aim to serve lunch, dinner and late-night grub in a parking lot at Queen St. E. and Jarvis St., just a short walk from Ryerson University and the Eaton Centre.
If successful, the food truck locale will be the first of its kind in Toronto; a number of downtown spots, including the Sony Centre and Royal Bank Plaza, have lunchtime trucks, but a permanent, all-day food truck hangout has yet to take hold.
“I want to make a place you could find food trucks 24-7,” said The Feisty Jack owner Will Randolph, who concocted the plan. “We could grow that spot to maybe 10 trucks. I would keep it going as long as people are willing to come out.”
Food Truck Alley will do a trial run, open Wednesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning Wednesday, with two trucks a day. If it proves popular enough, Randolph plans to expand to dinner and late-night hours.
Options range from churros to pulled pork to fish and chips, with vendors including The Feisty Jack, Curbalicious, Hogtown Smoke, Food Dudes, Gourmet Gringos,Crossroads Diner, Pancho’s Bakery and Fidel Gastro.
Randolph drew inspiration from the indie food cultures of London, New York City and even Hamilton, which already has a Food Truck Alley. In comparison, Toronto food trucks are hyper-regulated, he says.
“There is just no support from the City of Toronto. From every corner they make it difficult for this culture and business to be a success,” Randolph said. “The fact that Hamilton is ahead of us kind of boggles the mind.”
Toronto city council loosened its grip on food truck restrictions in April, launching the sale of 125 street permits for $5,000 apiece. Yet the allowance came with more rules: trucks can be parked for only three hours, they cannot be within 50 metres of a restaurant and only two are allowed per block.
By late June, just nine permits had been sold.
“There is no way in hell I would buy one,” Randolph said. “There are very few places you can find in Toronto that are 50 metres from a restaurant.”
However, the city’s restrictions don’t apply when the trucks are parked in a private lot, as in the proposed Food Truck Alley. So the alley would bypass the $5,000 fee and allow food trucks to split rent at the 141 Queen St. E. parking lot, which is owned by a tire store. Randolph sees the deal as a vital way for food truck culture to stay alive.
“If you don’t support this industry it will go away. I don’t really go on the streets anymore because it’s not a viable option to make money,” he said.
Others in the business agree on the need for a fallback venue.
“We were just at the Sony Centre, it was a $100 fee to be there and it’s raining today,” said Brittney Pawlick, owner of Curbalicious, on Tuesday. “We only did $200 in sales. So you figure $100 plus my gas and my employee and it probably cost me $200 to be there.”
Pawlick, who hopes to launch a similar late-night food truck refuge in a parking lot at Adelaide and Brant Sts. in mid-July, says Food Truck Alley is essential for new and struggling businesses.
“We need to have a spot where you can open up your business and get more followers and more likes. When you have nothing else to do, you have a spot to be at,” she said.
Randolph also hopes to launch Friday night food truck “street parties” that emulate those in Austin, Tex., with live music, performers and, of course, food.
“It’s a whole kind of indie subculture street market,” he said. “We have a lot of catching up to do, but we’ve got the ability to grow it.”